Historical or contemporary
‘Historisch oder jetzig?’, Junge Menschen (Hamburg), no.8, November 1924, p.171. Special Bauhaus issue.
The youth of today is aware of the false direction: that further stress on singularity in education produces unbearable fragmentation and inhibits production. We cannot bring the dead back to life. What has been chewed cannot be eaten again, what has been said does not simply belong to us. We must find a form appropriate to ourselves. Taking inspiration from the good old days, delighting in them, learning from them, is good. But to do so exclusively that is to forget oneself. Singing nothing but Minnelieder also obliges you to use clay rather than soap or not wash yourself at all.
Liberation from the gloom of individuality and from taught knowledge can easily look like a levelling-out. But the risk is outweighed by an important result: unification. If we all wear the same clothes, it indicates that our houses and our other clothes do not have to be very different. (All ancient cultures had a type of house that formed unified streets and cities.) Most utility objects today are produced mechanically, in factories. We are on the way to improving the attitude to life through the extremely economical manufacture of utility objects that work well. In order to encourage this, school should allow a lot to be learned, which is to say that it should teach little. (Let everyone test out his possibilities in many different directions, so that he may find his proper place in active life.)
The Bauhaus wants to take a path in that direction. It has arisen out of the merger of a school of graphic arts and a school of arts and crafts. Its task was recently formulated in these terms: The aim of the Bauhaus is to harmonise art education, hitherto isolated from practical life, with the demands of work in contemporary life.
To this end it has introduced into its education programme the unity of theoretical training and workshop work, which is to be cultivated in reference to the technical industrial working method of the present day. From the point of view that many isolated specialist professions or creative services, standing side by side, are finally directed towards building.
Thus the goal of the individual Bauhaus workshops is ‘building’ as a synthesis. We believe our attempts are not misguided when it comes to educating designers, and that our will to the simplest, clearest form will make human beings more united and life more real, which is to say more essential.
On my glass wall paintings
‘zu meinen glas-wandbildern’ a bis z: Organ der Gruppe progressiver Künstler (Cologne), vol.3, no.30, February 1933, p.117.
these glass wall paintings represent a new kind of picture that is significantly determined by the material (glass) and its technical treatment (patterned cutting, double-layered sand-blasting). here the glass is less like transparent window paintings, as before, and more like opaque panel paintings. they are not assembled, but are single-pane pictures of opaque milk glass, with coloured (in this case mostly black) double layer (a very thin glass overlay). a precise, sharp contour and surface edge are technically produced. this requires clear composition, very exact drawing and precise cutting. the brittleness of the material and the colour, which cannot be modulated, limit the range of shapes, but also provide a special colour intensity, including the deepest black and the purest white, as well as a particular charm in terms of form and material. appearance, substance and treatment of the material receive intense consideration in areas of civilisation with interests in construction. our own age, with its interest in technology, clearly displays this interest in ‘material’, like the gothic age in this respect. in the design of the works, combination then becomes as important as composition. the fact that the double-layered paintings are produced according to a precise method generates the possibility of repeating them precisely. consequently the paintings need not remain unique. here, as in graphic art or plastic moulds, the larger edition will reduce the costs of manufacture, and avert the snobbish interest in the unique single work.
TEACHING FORM THROUGH PRACTICE
Published in Josef Albers at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: An Exhibition of his Paintings and Prints, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1971, p.1.
in the experimental results supposed innovations in application or treatment are oftenrecognised in retrospect as already existing procedures. but the result is experiencedand owned, because learned and not taught.learning is better, because more intensive, than teaching: the more that is taught theless can be learned.1
1 This method should not be applied to pure areas of knowledge.
we know that education through learning travels further along the paths it takes, including detours and false turnings. but the beginning of everything does not lead straight on. and errors acknowledged encourage progress. deliberate detours and controlled errors sharpen criticism, point the way to more intelligent directions through mistakes, and produce the will to achieve things that are better and more correct.
experiences from handicraft are often more easily passed on from pupil to fellow-pupil than by the older, more remote teacher. for that reason the results are examined in shared discussion and responsibly communicated. this gives rise to the adoption of separate, but neighbouring and simultaneously related experiences. the more different relationships arise and the more intense they are, the more the elements increase, the more valuable is the result, and the more generous the work. this emphasises one chief element of education: economy. economy in the sense of thrift in relation to expense (material and labour) and the most effective of exploitation.
the activation of negatives (residual, intermediate and minus values) is perhaps the only entirely new, perhaps the most important element in contemporary formal innovation, but this has gone unnoticed by many – it hasn’t been much discussed – because the sociological parallels are not noticed. (closer examination of this chapter commands here and elsewhere to perceive the opportunity to examine the sociological reasons for the form aspired to in the present day.) taking the positives and negatives equally into account and assessing them evenly leaves nothing ‘over’. we no longer significantly distinguish between bearing and borne, we no longer divide between serving and served, decorating and decorated. each element or structural member must be effective both as helper and helped, supporting and supported. thus pedestal and frame fade away, and with them the monument that bears, on an abundance of substructure, a dearth of substance borne.
individualism is not primarily a school matter. because individualism stresses isolation; while the school’s task is to align the individual with contemporary events, with society (state, profession, economy). the nurturing of the individual is the task of the individual, not of collective enterprises such as the school. the school should nurture the individual passively, without disturbing personal development. let us ask how many personalities exist! we must number types in the majority. sociological economy must reject the personality cult of existing educational practice: productive individuality asserts itself without and against education.
in short, the inductive educational method propagated here seeks to achieve responsibility and discipline – with regard to itself, to material and to labour – and to pass on to the learner the knowledge required for his choice of profession about the areas of labour and material that most closely reflect his requirements. […] it strives towards training in movement on the broadest possible foundation, which will not leave later professional specialisation isolated. it leads to economic form. this practical form of study is deliberately set against the idea of apprenticeship in an industrial school, in which craftsman-like skill is supposed to be ‘taught’. where a bit of carpentry, a bit of book-binding, a bit of dressmaking goes on, and sawing and planing (the most difficult aspect of carpentry) and filing and hammering, and gluing and sticking, remains unproductive because it only satisfies the drive towards occupation, not the need for design.
as pupils and teachers we must learn together, with and from each other, as pupils and teachers (in competition, which elevates), otherwise education is both a thankless task and bad business.
‘Werklicher Formunterricht’, Bauhaus: Zeitschrift für Gestaltung (Dessau), no. 2/3, 1928, pp.3–7.
* * *
When I paint and construct
I try to develop visual articulation
I do not think then – about abstraction
and just as little – about expression
I do not look for isms
and not at momentary fashion
that art essentially is purpose
and seeing (schauen)
that form demands
I do not see
that forced individualism
or forced exaltation
are the source
of convincing formulation
of lasting meaning
In my work
I am content to compete
and to search with simple palette
and with simple color
for manifold instrumentation
So I dare further variants
Photos as photography and photos as art
Unpublished lecture by Josef Albers preserved in The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. Delivered by Albers at Black Mountain College on February 24, 1943.
I suppose some of you have seen the advertisement of commercial photo dealers saying ‘You push the button and we do the rest’. This promotes a taking of pictures with the least care possible. Such a way of looking at photography, I believe, is of the lowest level possible and should not be our way of approaching and understanding photography.
Photography is first a handicraft. It can also be art. It can produce works of art as any handicraft does, if the product represents a significant expression of the mentality of a period or an individual. Because such demonstrations reveal and evoke emotional participation, or, in other words, give us an aesthetic experience, pre-supposed that we are sensitive enough for it.
Photography, though very young, and suffering together with industry, from children’s diseases, continues to have better prospects than most of the older crafts. The danger of industrialization is taken away from it by the mass production of the press, and a degeneration toward a repair shop is outside of its nature. Though young, photography has already developed a large number of specialized branches and gained the attention of all who can read as well as of those unable to decipher letters. As an international and inter-linguistic means of communication it has conquered the attention of all.
Photography seems to work so simply and particularly so quickly that some people believe it cannot be of great value. Well, is a doctor when he just with one cut achieves what he wants to achieve, or, are Chinese drawings which are done obviously in a few minutes not good because they are done in such a short time? Here as there the discovery or selection and the way of using the means count. Also here the ability to select is the result of vision or of long preparatory study. Furthermore, photographs, being on the one hand an immediate and often instantaneous record of the external world, and, having on the other hand no way to show a personal handwriting at the surface of the picture, seem to be impersonal. It is true, the photographer does not betray his personality as much by craftsmanship as by the intensity of his vision. The absence of facture and draftsmanship as marks of the individual hand seem to be a loss. But it is a gain as it enables us to grasp the vision of the photographer in the most direct and immediate way.
Photographs reveal the individuality of the photographer if we as spectators are able to read it. Just as the unmusical ear is not competent to judge music, so it is like-wise with pictures, whether they are paintings, drawings or photos. Only a sensitive and trained eye gives us the right to judge, as it gives us a deeper reading and enjoyment. It belongs, I believe, to education to get beyond the point of mere likes and dislikes.